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Amy Mercer: It is not illegal to threaten a school shooting in Florida

Just days ago, 17 people, mostly teenagers, were killed at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. There were warning signs, and one of them was an online posting under the shooter’s name that dictated “I’m going to be a professional school shooter” on a YouTube video.

These types of threats can be a critical indicator that intervention is necessary in an individual’s life to prevent violence to others. However, under current law, these kinds of threats are not illegal. Individuals can literally post online the time and location of a planned mass shooting, and individuals cannot be prosecuted.

In 2014, a Sarasota teen posted on Twitter “Can’t wait to shoot up my school,” and “It’s time. School getting shot up on Tuesday,” with a photo of a gun being placed in his backpack. In 2016, an appellate court found there was not enough to prosecute him under the current law.

Shockingly, it is not illegal to threaten mass shootings like at Marjory Stoneman Douglas in Florida. Senate Bill 310 would change that.

SB 310 will allow law enforcement to act on a broader range of threats, including those made on social media. The bill makes it a third-degree felony to create and send certain written threats, including electronic communications, to kill or do great bodily injury.

There is a misconception that a law like this is already on the books and that law enforcement can assess, and take action, on threats made online. Although online threats have the potential to be an extreme danger to our communities, law enforcement officers’ hands are tied when they try to act on non-specific threats made through digital platforms. The warning signs aren’t missed, they just don’t have the tools we need to act on them.

In the aftermath of the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas, it is critical that we pass this legislation. Gov. Rick Scott has made it a priority to enhance criminal penalties for threats to schools including those made through social media in Friday’s release of his priorities to combat school shootings. We need to move with urgency, just two weeks remain in our regular legislative session.

Law enforcement officers need the tools to protect our schools and our communities in today’s digital age. This bill allows law enforcement to do their job and act on the warning signs.

This bill is supported by a bipartisan group of legislators looking to give law enforcement more authority to keep us safe.

Now is the time to act.

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Amy Mercer is the executive director of the Florida Police Chiefs Association. The Florida Police Chiefs Association is the third largest state police chiefs association in the United States. It is composed of more than 900 of the state’s top law enforcement executives. FPCA serves municipal police departments, airport police, college and university police, private business and security firms, as well as federal, state and county law enforcement agencies. The FPCA has members representing every region of the state.

As lawmakers tiptoe to budget negotiating starting line, state revenue estimate is cut by $167 million

With less than two weeks before the end of the 2018 Legislative Session, the pot of money lawmakers must work with in order to craft a state budget is shrinking rapidly.

At work are two factors: one is a revised estimate for state tax and revenue collections, the second is the estimated cost of the proposals crafted in response to the mass shooting that killed 17 people at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Broward County

State analysts met Friday and reduced their previous estimate by $167 million, citing a continued decline in corporate income tax collections.

“While the data for February is still preliminary, it appears that only a small fraction of the expected total was actually received,” the new forecast said.

The analysis places the blame on the delayed payments on Hurricane Irma, which had prompted the Florida Department of Revenue to extend the due dates for corporate income tax filers.

The Revenue Estimating Conference cut its projection for corporate income tax collections in 2017-2018 by $94.3 million and by $73.1 million in 2018-2019, resulting in the $167 million decline in the overall estimate. Analysts projected the shortfall would be negated when the delayed payments began coming in, but that has yet to happen.

Analysts cut their projection for corporate income tax collections in 2017-2018 by $94.3 million and by $73.1 million in 2018-2019, resulting in the $167 million decline in the overall estimate.

Although lawmakers have not started formal negotiations on a new state budget, House leadership told FloridaPolitics.com Friday night that while allocations are not out, staff for the two appropriations committees have “opened up the columns,” a phrase used to describe when the House and Senate examine each other’s budget columns line by line so that they can match each other’s numbers. This is a necessary preliminary step in the budgeting process that allows legislative leaders to begin to formulate offers on allocations.

On Friday, Gov. Rick Scott and legislative leaders unveiled proposals to address school safety, gun laws and mental-health issues after the mass shooting in Parkland. House Speaker Richard Corcoran said at a news conference that lawmakers are expected to spend $400 million to $500 million on the issues, though details were still being worked out.

To bottom-line it: Friday was a very expensive day for the state of Florida. The downward revision of the revenue estimate ($167 million) plus the money for the school safety and gun laws ($400 to $500 million) means that lawmakers are working with half-a-billion dollars less than they were a week ago.

As one lobbyist who specializes in budgeting and appropriations described it to us, these new numbers are “game changers.”

The 2018 Session is set to conclude March 9.

Material from the News Service of Florida was used in this post.

Takeaways from Tallahassee — A puzzling vote

As House Speaker Richard Corcoran’s priority education bill is pushed through the Senate committee process, some watching this week were perplexed by the vote of one sometimes perplexing Republican lawmaker.

Sen. Tom Lee, who has helped carry Corcoran’s policy in a sometimes-hostile Senate, voted with Democrats to gut language from the omnibus bill that would decertify teachers’ unions if their membership does not stay above 50 percent of total eligible employees.

Versions of the language, deemed “union busting” by opponents, have been the subject of partisan slugfests all session.

Lee told Florida Politics he voted for Sen. Perry Thurston’s amendment out of an “abundance of caution.” But insiders said there may be another reason: former Gov. Jeb Bush endorsing Jimmy Patronis for chief financial officer, a role Lee says he is mulling a run for.

The connection is this: An education reform foundation founded by Bush has been a big supporter of the House measure, and by him voting down on that provision, it would be a jab at them.

Lee says he is not always in lockstep with the foundation, as many Republicans are, but his vote was based on needing more information on the impact of the issue, which critics say is a “spiteful way of taking rights away from workers.”

“I tend to be an ally of the Speaker and expect to continue to be so, but at the end of the day, you take your orders from the people who elected you,” Lee said, “and not the former governor or the House Speaker.”

Lee said he gives Senate President Joe Negron “a lot of credit” for sending HB 7055 through the Senate committee process. The bill will be heard next week the Appropriations Committee, according to Senate Budget Chairman Rob Bradley.

Whether the proposal will be a hiccup in budget talks remains to be seen.

Coming up, the usual assortment of tidbits, leftovers and not-ready-for-prime-time moments by Ana Ceballos, Jim Rosica, Danny McAuliffe, Andrew Wilson and Peter Schorsch.

But first, the “Takeaway 5” — the Top 5 stories from the week that was:

Arming teachers — A week after the worst school shooting in the state’s history, the Republican-controlled Legislature unveiled their proposals, which include training school employees to become armed “marshals.” It’s something President Donald Trump agrees with, but Gov. Rick Scott does not. House Speaker Corcoran said teachers who have the requisite hours to act as trained law enforcement officers would be allowed to carry guns in schools, adding that it is a “first of its kind proposal” in the nation. With two weeks left in the 2018 legislative session, state lawmakers and the governor are also pushing for more school resource officers and boosting funding for mental health services.

In response to last week’s mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, Gov. Rick Scott outlines his plan to keep students safe while at school during a news conference Friday at the Capitol in Tallahassee. Photo credit: Colin Hackley

Unprecedented gun law proposals — After thousands of students, parents and teachers came to Tallahassee to speak to legislative leaders seeking more restrictions on the purchase of “war weapons,” both chambers and the governor all agreed to raise the minimum age of owning and possessing “all firearms” to 21 and banning the sale of bump stocks. Gov. Scott said a ban on assault weapons would “not fix the problem” and would hurt “law-abiding citizens.” The House and Senate plans also include a three-day waiting period for all gun purchases.

Scott on mental health services — Gov. Scott wants to expand mental health services teams statewide to serve youth and young adults with early or serious mental illness by providing counseling, crisis management and other critical mental health services. He also wants every Sheriff’s Office to have a crisis welfare worker embedded in their departments to work on repeat cases in the community. This would mean adding 67 more employees at the Department of Children and Families by July 15.

Budget slap fight — With less than three weeks to go in a legislative session, the direction of which has now been overcome by the massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, budget negotiations between the House and the Senate aren’t just stalled, they’re not happening. The first indication that the annual back-and-forth between the two chambers is not on track surfaced Tuesday afternoon. The Associated Press’ Gary Fineout reported that House budget chairman Carlos Trujillo said there has been “no progress” on allocations and, instead, that legislators are focused on responding to the tragedy in Parkland.

Criminal justice reforms move ahead — A sweeping criminal justice bill that would upend how the state collects data on offenders in an attempt to better determine who is incarcerated and for how long is moving in the Senate. The measure would require the Department of Corrections to use risk-assessment instruments that can identify the appropriate intervention and program for offenders in an effort to reduce recidivism. Sen. Jeff Brandes said his bill (SB 1218) could be used as the foundation for “meaningful” criminal justice reform in the future. Another measure that would ease mandatory minimums in certain drug trafficking cases also headed to the Senate floor this week.

Instagram of the week

Scott to sign bill replacing Confederate statue with McLeod Bethune

Gov. Scott will soon sign a bill that will make Florida the first state to commemorate an African-American historical figure in the U.S. Capitol.

The state House and Senate have approved legislation that will honor civil-rights leader Mary McLeod Bethune at National Statuary Hall in the U.S. Capitol. Her statue will replace that of Confederate General Edmund Kirby Smith. The Legislature agreed to remove Smith’s statue in 2016.

Mary McLeod Bethune.

Daytona Beach Democratic Rep. Patrick Henry sponsored the initiative in the House, which cleared the measure Tuesday. Perry Thurston, a Fort Lauderdale Democrat, sponsored the Senate version.

“Bethune’s life and values illustrate the best of Florida,” Thurston said. “Choosing her likeness for the Hall sends a powerful signal to the world that Floridians recognize our state’s rich history and its present-day diversity.”

Bethune served as president of the National Association of Colored Women. She was an appointee of President Herbert Hoover to the White House Conference on Child Health and was an adviser to President Franklin Roosevelt. Bethune also founded what is now Bethune-Cookman University in Daytona Beach. The school has offered to cover the cost of Bethune’s statue.

Each state is allowed two representatives in Statuary Hall. The Sunshine State’s other statue commemorates John Gorrie, widely considered the father of air conditioning.

The week in appointments

Greater Orlando Aviation Authority — Scott appointed Maggie Montalvo to fill a vacant seat in the Greater Orlando Aviation Authority.

Montalvo, 53, is the executive vice president and the chief operations officer of First Colony Bank of Florida. She received a degree in banking from the American Banking and Accounting Institute.

Her term ends April 16, 2020, and her appointment is subject to Senate confirmation.

St. Johns River Watch Management District — Scott appointed Allan Roberts, the owner and operator of First Coast Cattle, to the Governing Board of the St. Johns River Water Management District.

Roberts, 70, is currently a member of the Florida Cattleman’s Association and the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association.

He will fill a vacant seat and is appointed for a term ending March 1, 2020. His appointment is subject to Senate confirmation.

Floridians flocked to CRC hearings in Melbourne, Jacksonville

The Constitution Revision Commission held two meetings in its “Road to the Ballot” public hearing tour this week, and much like the first stop in Ft. Lauderdale, turnout was healthy.

An estimated 600 people went to the Feb. 19 meeting at Eastern Florida State College in Melbourne. Among them were 240 individuals who filled out a speaker card.

The Constitution Revision Commission came to Jacksonville Tuesday for a marathon public hearing on the 37 proposals that are still live.

The Jacksonville stop, held on the University of North Florida campus Feb. 20, more than 500 showed up, with 210 requesting a chance to speak before the commission.

Video of both hearings is available online through The Florida Channel.

The next tour stop is a Feb. 27 hearing at the University of West Florida in Pensacola, followed by a March 5 hearing at The Westin in Cape Coral and a March 13 stop at University of South Florida — St. Petersburg.

House Democrats still working on AR-15 ban

Among the state House’s most visible actions while Marjory Stoneman Douglas shooting survivors were in Tallahassee was a no vote on advancing an assault weapons ban bill to the chamber floor for debate.

The 71-36 party-line defeat in the HB 219 vote was met with astonishment and tears by students in the gallery, but Miami Democratic Rep. Kionne McGhee isn’t giving up on getting a bill to ban semi-automatic rifles to the House floor before the end of the 2018 Legislative Session.

Senate President Joe Negron announces a comprehensive package of legislation to improve the safety and security of Florida students and schools. Those bills will be heard in the committee on Monday.

McGee said semi-automatic assault rifles, particularly the AR-15 model used in the Parkland shooting, are a “common denominator” in mass shootings and lawmakers need to discuss the issue before they can “move on.”

McGee didn’t reveal his strategy for getting such a ban through the GOP-controlled House, but Senate Democrats this week said they would attempt to attach gun legislation, including an AR-15 ban, to bills moving through the Legislature.

FDP chair calls out Republicans for AR-15 vote

The Florida Democratic Party chair said state House Republicans turned their backs on the survivors of the Parkland shooting this week when the chamber voted not to hear a bill banning semi-automatic assault weapons.

FDP chair Terrie Rizzo blasts lawmakers for ‘turning their backs’ on Parkland survivors.

“[Tuesday’s] vote is just one more reminder that Gov. Scott, Corcoran and the GOP-led legislature continue to fail to provide the leadership needed to put an end to senseless mass shootings,” said FDP Chairwoman Terrie Rizzo.

“If tragedy strikes again and innocent children and citizens are gunned down in a classroom, a dance club or an airport, we can look to yesterday as another example of elected officials that care more about special interest money than keeping our kids safe from harm.”

The House voted 71-36 against hearing the bill, HB 219. No Republican voted in favor of the measure.

Car dealer bill stalls in House committee

A bill aimed at making changes to car dealership regulations stalled out in its second House committee this week over objections it was tailored to hand a single industry association a monopoly on dealer training.

The bill (HB 595) by Naples Republican Rep. Bob Rommel would make changes to various legal definitions relating to car dealers.

Rep. Bob Rommel’s auto dealership bill is running out of gas.

But a strike-all amendment also by Rommel would have required new car dealers to take a four-hour course each year to keep their license. That would put them in line with requirements set for used car dealers.

That training could only be offered by “a Florida-based, nonprofit, dealer-owned, statewide industry association of franchised motor vehicle dealers.”

Only one group in the state (probably not coincidentally) qualifies under that definition: the Florida Automobile Dealers Association.

FADA representative John Forehand testified that the cap isn’t necessarily indicative of the charge the group would levy but was there as a protection since the language would make it the sole source for the training.

“Why not $200? $300?” asked St. Petersburg Democrat Wengay Newton. No matter: The bill later was temporarily postponed.

FCUA names Jones ‘Lawmaker of the Year’

The Florida Credit Union Association this week named West Park Democratic Rep. Shevrin Jones as their “2017 State Lawmaker of the Year.”

FCUA recognized Jones as a longtime friend of credit unions, and for sponsoring a bill in the 2017 Legislative Session to exempt credit unions from regulation and lawsuits under the Florida Deceptive & Unfair Trades Practices Act.

Shevrin Jones has been named Legislator of the Year by the Florida Credit Union Association.

“Representative Jones has served credit unions in Florida as a true champion,” said Patrick La Pine, who heads FCUA’s parent organization, the League of Southeastern Credit Unions & Affiliates.

“He has sponsored legislation to include credit unions in an exemption under the Florida Deceptive & Unfair Trade Practices Act and understands the critical role that credit unions play in Florida’s economy and in serving Floridians throughout the state.”

FCUA honored Jones in Tallahassee last month during the Florida Advocacy Conference, where the lawmaker addressed credit union leaders gathered to help promote the industry at the state capitol.

Senate fracking ban bill on life support

A fracking ban sponsored by Tampa Republican Sen. Dana Young didn’t make the agenda for the Feb. 27 Senate Appropriations Committee, and anti-fracking groups are laying the blame on Appropriations Chair Bradley.

Floridians Against Fracking, a statewide coalition of anti-fracking groups and businesses, put out a statement this week blasting Bradley not allowing the bill to be heard.

Some blame the failure of an anti-fracking bill on Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Rob Bradley.

“The fracking ban has broad, bipartisan support in both chambers because the people of Florida have been demanding it to protect our water, our tourism economy and our natural resources. If a fracking ban does not end up on the Governor’s desk to sign this session, it will be seen by the people of Florida as a failure of leadership,” said Brian Lee, the group’s legislative director.

Floridians Against Fracking suggested in the same release that Senate President Negron bring the ban bill up for a vote directly on the Senate floor, or in a future, unscheduled Appropriations Committee.

The fracking ban was a major campaign pledge of Young’s in the 2016 cycle. The House companion has not yet been heard in any committee, though the House has said it would take up the Senate version of the bill should it pass.

Business rent tax debate flares up on Twitter

The National Federation of Independent Business/Florida and the Florida AFL/CIO’s Rich Templin had a little back and forth on Twitter this week about the business rent tax cut when the tax package was up in House Appropriations.

It’s the only state-sanctioned sales tax on commercial leases in the entire nation. Gov. Scott and trade groups have long called to lighten the load on commercial businesses, which pay more than $1.7 billion in rent taxes every year.

Avid Twitter user Rich Templin of the Florida AFL-CIO.

Shot by NFIB: “The small and independently owned businesses NFIB represents overwhelmingly support the biz rent tax cut; #smallbiz drives the economy, and saving them money creates jobs, improves benefits and keeps the dollars in our backyards.”

Chaser by Templin: “This bumper sticker sloganeering doesn’t equate to sound fiscal policy. The overwhelming bulk of this tax cut will go to larger retailers based out of state. The taxpayers shoulder the burden & services workers & small businesses need are hindered.”

Background: Supporters of tax cuts say Florida’s business rent tax puts the state at a distinct competitive disadvantage, one that is unique in the country. Commercial rent taxes makes Florida’s competitors more attractive to business since companies are naturally more resistant to move to the state if they can get similar benefits elsewhere without paying a tax on rents.

AOB reform ad hitting Florida airwaves

Radio stations across the state this week started playing an ad warning Floridians of the dangers of “Assignment of Benefits,” which allows insurance policy rights to be signed over to third-party contractors.

The Consumer Protection Coalition, one of the chief organizations pushing AOB reform is led in part by the Florida Chamber of Commerce. Property Casualty Insurers Association of America, a member of the coalition, is footing the bill for the ad.

Listen to the new ad here:

“On the heels of the Florida Justice Reform Institute releasing a new report showcasing the need for AOB reform, the Consumer Protection Coalition felt it was important to alert Florida home and auto owners on how the AOB scheme works and why it is important for them to engage in asking Florida lawmakers to support meaningful AOB reform,” said Florida Chamber VP Edie Ousley.

The ad goes over how AOB works — or at least how it can be abused by unscrupulous lawyers and vendors. The radio ad is available on CPC’s website.

FSU prof to help on Hamer doc

A Florida State University professor is teaming up with Tougaloo College in Mississippi and the Kellogg Foundation to produce a new documentary on civil rights activist Fannie Lou Hamer.

FSU’s Davis Houck, the current holder of an endowed chair named after Hamer, will serve in an advisory capacity on the film, “Fannie Lou Hamer’s America,” and the corresponding civil rights K-12 curriculum, “Find Your Voice.”

Civil rights activist Fannie Lou Hamer will be the subject of a new FSU doc.

“Having Fannie Lou Hamer’s name attached to my work and Florida State University is inspiring and daunting,” said Houck, a professor at FSU’s School of Communication.

“The project is inspiring because of the life she led in pursuit of justice, and it is daunting because her fearlessness — often in the face of grinding and lethal adversity — sets an enormously high bar for anyone seeking to walk in her footsteps.”

Hamer was a leader in the civil rights movement known for her powerful speeches, songs and activism. The K-12 component focuses on youth empowerment and community engagement in the Mississippi Delta, and it intends to connect students and teachers to the region’s history during the civil rights movement.

Tallahassee a ‘Great Small Town for Big Vacations’

The Travel Channel listed Tallahassee as one of “10 Great Small Towns for Big Vacations” this week, much to the delight of the capital city’s officials and its tourism marketing arm.

“The uniqueness of our area continues to gain the attention of national media that recognize Leon County’s rich cultural heritage and natural beauty,” said Leon County Commission Chairman Nick Maddox. “We know that we live in an exceptional part of Florida and we think it’s time the rest of the nation, and the world, knows it, too.”

A great small town for big vacations.

The slideshow article says what Tallahassee “lacks in beaches it more than makes up for in Florida culture and adventure.” Recommendations included Ernestine Fryson’s famous fried catfish at the Bradfordville Blues Club, and the abundant nature tourism in the area.

Article author Steve Larese’s visit resulted from an invitation by Leon County to give the area a look. He was one of many of travel writers who visited the Leon County area while researching stories for various publications.

“To be counted among the country’s small towns for big adventure demonstrates the hard work of Leon County Division of Tourism in elevating and promoting what our community has to offer both visitors and residents,” said Leon County Administrator Vincent S. Long.

Now for this week’s edition of Capitol Directions:

Bill Nelson: Rick Scott doesn’t hear what Floridians demand on guns

Democratic U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson said the guns and schools proposal announced Friday by Republican Gov. Rick Scott has some things he supports but called Scott’s plan inadequate and said that the governor was not listening to what Floridians really want following the latest mass shooting: universal background checks and a ban on assault weapons.

“Gov. Scott should have been listing to the people of Florida. But instead he has been listening to the NRA. And as a result he has missed the major two components that the people of Florida are demanding, because they don’t want any more massacres, any more slaughters” Nelson told reporters in Orlando Friday.

“And that is a comprehensive criminal background check in the purchase of a gun, as well as get the assault rifles off our streets,” Nelson said.

Scott’s office replied that Nelson is wrong, that the governor did listen carefully to many students, families and others in the days since the Parkland massacre and his proposal is a result of their requests. His office said he has not spoken to the NRA since the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shootings, and noted the NRA opposes some of the package, notably the governor’s recommendation to raise the minimum age to 21 for the purchase of assault weapons.

Nelson’s response was sent as U.S. senator to state governor, and was offered from the confines of Nelson’s Orlando U.S. Senate office. But it might as well have come from a campaign stop, as it defines a difference between the two that is likely to be a fundamental election campaign contrast in what likely is the showdown pairing for this year’s U.S. Senate election in Florida. Scott, though, has not yet filed or announced any challenge to Nelson’s job.

Nelson found a few things he liked in the package that Scott and Republican lawmakers rolled out Friday morning in their comprehensive plans for school safety and to address gun violence, following last week’s massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, and this week’s protest rallies in Tallahassee led by Douglas High students who survived that mass shooting.

Nelson said he appreciates and shares the governor’s desire to “harden” schools, provide funding for school security and mental health, and banning bump stocks, but said the other proposals about guns in Florida were weak, bare-minimum responses, and inadequate.

Nelson is one of the sponsors of a bill in the U.S. Senate seeking to ban more than 200 kinds of semi-automatic weapons.

He repeated his contention that the data is clear and overwhelming that the high-powered, rapid-shooting guns’ availability has led to massive increases in mass killings, noting the periods before, during and after the sales of the guns were banned from 1994-2004. The ten year period before had 19 mass shootings with 155 deaths; the period during the ban, 12 shootings with 89 deaths, and the ten-year period after the ban was lifted, 34 shootings with 302 deaths, according to a Washington Post graphic he cited. And the post-period incidents do not include the Pulse massacre in Orlando, the concert massacre in Las Vegas, the school massacre in Parkland, or several in between, he noted.

Florida’s largest teacher union backs Rick Scott school safety plan

The Florida Education Association hasn’t often championed Gov. Rick Scott‘s education proposals, but it is applauding his $500 million plan to address school safety that he announced Friday in Tallahassee.

The suite of proposals most notably does not include arming schoolteachers, an idea that President Donald Trump and other Florida Republican lawmakers have proposed in the wake of last week’s gun massacre in Parkland.

“I want to make it virtually impossible for anyone who has mental issues to use a gun,” Scott said at a news conference unveiling his proposals. “I want to make it virtually impossible for anyone who is a danger to themselves or others to use a gun.”

The plan does include spending $450 million to put a law enforcement officer in every public school, and one officer for every 1,000 students by the 2018 school year. It also calls for hiring more mental health counselors to serve every student a school and funding to provide metal detectors, bulletproof glass and steel doors.

Safety plans would be required before the money would be spent.

“Our members’ primary concern right now is to ensure that our students feel safe and cared for in our schools. We are determined that our students never again experience these all too common shootings,” Florida Education Association President Joanne McCall said in a statement. “We thank the governor and all those involved in crafting this proposal, it is very close to what the FEA has been calling for.”

Scott worked with a variety of experts in preparing his school safety plan, including educators.

An “overwhelming majority of citizens are in agreement that weapons designed for war have no place in our society,” McCall said, adding that while legislators can debate gun control regulations, the FEA will continue to focus on educating public school children and protecting students and education employees.

“We call on both sides of the gun debate to come together for our students — especially for the students of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High,” McCall said. “The safety of our students is in the hands of our elected officials. It is time to act. No more excuses.”

In defiance of the National Rifle Association, Scott also backed raising the minimum age to buy any firearm, including semi-automatic rifles, to 21 from 18.

Rick Scott stays in sync with the NRA as he faces a reckoning on guns

The governor is planning to roll out his legislative proposal Friday that, according to a spokesman, will be “aimed at keeping Florida schools safe and keeping firearms out of the hands of mentally ill people.”

With Florida now at the epicenter of a fast-changing national gun debate, the state’s Republican governor is so far refusing to budge from his long-standing opposition to new limits on firearms.

The approach of Gov. Rick Scott, who holds an A+ rating from the National Rifle Association and is preparing to enter what would be a hotly-contested Senate race, stands in contrast to fellow Republicans such as Florida U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio and President Donald Trump who in recent days have expressed openness to some new gun limits.

In the days since last week’s mass shooting at a South Florida high school re-energized gun-control activists, Scott has so far responded to questions about the issue with answers that quickly turn to mental health and the need for enhancing safety protocols in schools.

Although he initially told CNN last week “everything’s on the table,” Scott declined an invitation from the network to appear at Wednesday night’s town hall with survivors of the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland.

Rubio attended the event and said for the first time he was ready to consider some restrictions on assault weapons — while Scott’s potential opponent in the fall, U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, a Democrat, hinted guns could be a focal point in the race by taking a swipe at the governor’s decision to skip.

″[Rubio] had guts, coming here,” Nelson said, prompting boos from the crowd of 7,000 moments later when he added: “Our governor did not come here.”

Scott could face a reckoning on the issue in the coming days, with GOP lawmakers engaged in talks with Democrats designed to produce a potentially modest gun restriction bill before the Legislature’s Session ends next week. The measure would go to Scott for his signature — or possible veto.

The governor is planning to roll out his own legislative proposal Friday that, according to a spokesman, will be “aimed at keeping Florida schools safe and keeping firearms out of the hands of mentally ill people.” The spokesman, John Tupps, said Scott would like to see “swift action,” but he did not specify what that could be.

Scott declined to be interviewed for this story, but several associates this week told The Washington Post he has no intention of softening his views on gun rights.

“He’s committed to Second Amendment rights, and that’s not going to change,” said Brian Ballard, a veteran Florida lobbyist and Scott supporter. “He’s a strong NRA supporter and knows that you have to be careful about tweaking anything that would affect someone’s right to bear arms.”

Keith Appell, a former Scott campaign adviser, said the governor is highly unlikely to embrace new gun regulations.

“He genuinely feels that you don’t solve a symptom of the problem, you solve the problem,” Appell said. “The problem is that schools aren’t safe and is eroding the Second Amendment going to make one kid safer?”

Appell added, “He’s going to be skeptical about the suggestion that banning guns will make school safer.”

Scott, 65, is a wiry and wealthy former health care executive whose anti-establishment entry into politics eight years ago foreshadowed the rise of his ally, Trump.

Known for an upbeat but scripted style, Scott has not shied away from political drama since last week’s tragedy.

He has placed blame on the FBI for failing to act on a call weeks before the shooting, calling for the resignation of the bureau’s director, Christopher Wray.

He has attended numerous funerals, and he has met with survivors of last week’s deadly rampage that killed 17 people and left scores injured. Even in private discussions, he has avoided talk of gun limits.

“He said there is no way that someone who is mentally deranged, such as [Douglas High School shooting suspect] Nikolas Cruz, should have access to a gun,” said Olivia Feller, 16, a junior at the high school who met with Scott on Wednesday along with other students.

One place for consensus could be a revision of Florida’s Baker Act, a law that determines how far law enforcement can go in restricting the activities or purchases of mentally ill people.

Sheriffs and other leaders were divided on whether a change to the scope of the law would infringe on gun rights. Some officials said it should be left alone and urged the state to concentrate on giving weapons to teachers.

Appearing Tuesday at a policy workshop, Scott steered clear of talk of gun rights and focused on “taking a hard look at security” in Florida schools.

“It’s very important we act with a sense of urgency,” Scott said, sitting with a group of sheriffs and state officials.

The deadline for Scott’s final decision on the changes he could support, if any, is fast approaching. State Republican leaders said Tuesday they are planning for a committee vote on their plans next week.

Scott’s enduring position on gun rights reflects the entrenched support for firearms in Florida, despite several of the most deadly mass shootings in U.S. history occurring in the state during his tenure.

Florida has a history of taking the lead nationally in legislating concealed-carry permits, and it has passed a “stand your ground” law, which protects citizens who use deadly force if they feel they are in imminent danger.

Scott’s stance also underscores just how careful most Republican leaders, especially those eyeing higher office, remain on the issue of guns, knowing the party’s base is wary of any push to limit the usage of guns.

Scott has become one of the NRA’s favorite elected officials. The website for the group’s annual meeting this May in Dallas lists him as a speaker earlier in the week, but his smiling photo disappeared from the website by Wednesday. A flier the NRA sent out in 2014 hailed the governor as a trusted foe of “gun control extremists.”

NRA officials made clear this week they intend to fight back against efforts to curb gun rights. The group said in a statement on Wednesday it would oppose legislation to raise the age requirement for buying rifles.

A bill authored by Florida Democrats to ban high-capacity magazines and some semiautomatic weapons failed Tuesday, as gun-control activists and students watched the vote from the state capitol. State GOP leaders said afterward they would consider more modest bills.

The slow pace of debate is a familiar replay for longtime watchers of Florida politics and its governor, although Scott has shown in the past an occasional willingness to move to the center on issues such as Medicaid expansion.

“Florida is littered with examples of people thinking it’ll be a different moment on guns, but the culture never changes,” Florida Republican consultant Rick Wilson said. “This is another one of those moments. That cold political calculus is made, and there is zero movement in Tallahassee.”

Democrats have increased their attacks. “Governor Scott, we need more than your thoughts and prayers. Stop putting the gun lobby ahead of our safety,” a narrator says in the latest ad from Giffords PAC, the political-action committee helmed by former Arizona congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, a Democrat.

Trump’s allies say presidential action, while at its early stages, could ultimately prod Scott to move further on guns.

“The president’s position goes beyond that, the White House wants stronger background checks,” said Christopher Ruddy, a Trump ally and the Florida-based chief executive of Newsmax Media. “The smart thing to do politically would be to require stronger background checks not only for mentally ill people but for those with criminal backgrounds and other issues. Rick is a strong conservative but he likes to be in line with the president, and Trump is the standard-bearer.”

Florida lawmakers and consultants point back to Scott’s responses to past shootings as the better way to predict his next steps.

“The Second Amendment has never shot anybody. The evil did this,” Scott told reporters two years ago following a shooting in Fort Myers, where two teenagers were killed outside of a nightclub.

___

The Washington Post’s Michael Scherer contributed reporting from Tallahassee.

Republished with permission of the Washington Post.

Jacksonville Bold for 2.23.18 — The Steamroller

On Wednesday, Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry held a media event in which he and City Councilman Al Ferraro filled potholes in roads in a Northside industrial park.

Curry wanted to focus on the hard work being done, day in and day out, by city employees to maintain public infrastructure.

A laudable goal. Especially given where things have been lately.

Politics in Northeast Florida has been particularly parlous since the beginning of the year, as you will read below.

The Texas Death Match between Al Lawson and Alvin Brown. The No DQ tag match between those close to the Mayor and those on the side of the Council Resistance. The “JEA on the pole” match.

The prevailing image of the Curry event was the mayor on a steamroller.

Lenny Curry mans the steamroller.

Some quipped that it was apropos — symbolic of a political machine that overwhelms opposition as a matter of course.

Curry, the kind of Jacksonville public official who tweets from “On War” by Clausewitz, often uses these public works events as a “back to basics” reset when time or events riddle smooth narratives.

They are a reprieve from the heated narrative of February, spats with Council members, and the like.

They are what the business of running a city comes down to.

No one argues about the mechanics of filling potholes; yet, Tallahassee hasn’t figured out how to take away home rule for that local function.

The takeaway from the event: sometimes it’s nice to just get on the steamroller and smooth out the rough road.

Even if it’s hard to steer sometimes.

Blood money

More drama in the Democratic primary in Florida’s 5th Congressional District.

On Monday, as has been the case for weeks, challenger Brown laid into Rep. Lawson.

Parkland cast a shadow on the congressional race this week.

The former Jacksonville Mayor noted, via a media release, that Lawson was the sole Florida Democrat to take money from the National Rifle Association.

“Despite Rep. Al Lawson’s statement last week decrying the ‘stranglehold of the gun lobby,’ Rep. Al Lawson is just another Washington politician who has taken campaign contributions from the NRA in return for inaction on gun violence. Late last year, Lawson proudly took $2,500 from the NRA — making Lawson the only member of Florida’s Democratic delegation to accept money from the gun lobby.”

However, Lawson said he had NOT taken any NRA money.

Lawson responded Monday, saying flat out that Brown was “lying” about his record.

“Once again, Alvin Brown and his campaign are lying. Not only have I not taken any money from the National Rifle Association or any of its affiliates, [but] I also have scored a zero on issues important to the NRA,” Lawson began.

“If Mr. Brown did some actual research, he would see that there are no contributions from the NRA on my campaign report, or any expenditures from the NRA, or their political action committees to my campaign,” Lawson added, saying that “Brown is trying to use this national tragedy to fundraise and revive his failed political career.”

Lawson has a history of being friendlier to the gun lobby than many Democrats.

Will that matter in the August primary?

Lawson pans Trump’s ‘heartless’ budget

Lawson, who Brown is doing his best to link with President Donald Trump, panned POTUS’ proposed budget this weekend in the Florida Times-Union.

Al Lawson bashed the Donald Trump budget, but will it help him shake DINO charge from Alvin Brown?

The “irresponsible and extreme budget that would slash spending on Medicare, Medicaid, food stamps, transportation and other essential government services, all while increasing the deficit …  hits our most vulnerable citizens the hardest, reflects a terrible disdain for working families, as well as a disheartening lack of vision for a stronger society.”

This editorial includes recurrent Lawson themes, including noting the high rate of poverty in Florida’s 5th Congressional District, and decrying proposed changes in the food stamps program.

The president proposed sending boxes of food to people instead of the SNAP disbursements.

Save the Date

Nancy Soderberg, a Democrat running in Florida’s 6th Congressional District, opens her campaign HQ in Daytona Sunday afternoon.

Nancy Soderberg is ramping up an impressive structure early in her congressional bid.

Soderberg recently hired a campaign manager and field director, and she is testing the theory that the seat currently held by gubernatorial candidate Ron DeSantis can be flipped.

Soderberg, who served as Ambassador to the United Nations during Bill Clinton’s presidency, has shown momentum since entering the race in summer 2017. She raised $207,949 last quarter, putting her above the $544,000 mark. She has $376,000 cash on hand.

While this does not give Soderberg the total cash on hand lead (Republican John Ward has $644,216 on hand), Soderberg will have the resources to be competitive.

In a quest for more resources, Soderberg has a DC fundraiser lined up for March 8. On hand: James Carville and Rep. Darren Soto.

Levine makes the scene

Former Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine, a candidate for Governor, was in Jacksonville Monday evening to address Duval County Democrats.

Philip Levine was in Duval as part of his ’67-county strategy.’

Levine, on his second trip to Jacksonville in recent weeks, had a “living room” conversation earlier in the day. Even as Gwen Graham has a strong foothold in the area, what is clear is that Levine thinks Northeast Florida is in play as part of his “67 county strategy.”

“The message has been resonating … I’ve been to towns you’ve never heard of … with a message many Democrats has never heard before.”

That message: deliberately “pro-business.” Levine notes that corporate HR policies tend to be progressive.

“The only way we’re going to win a general election is to make purple … mix red and blue,” Levine said.

Read more here.

Constitutional conclave

The Constitution Revision Commission came to Jacksonville Tuesday for a marathon public hearing on the 37 proposals that are still live.

And some that weren’t, such as Proposal 22, perceived as an affront on abortion rights, and Proposal 62, which would allow for people to vote in primaries regardless of party identification. The green cards of support outweighed the red cards by a factor of 20.

Florida’s Constitutional Revision Commission visits the University of North Florida for public input.

“There are 3.4 million Floridians whose right to vote is denied,” said Jackie Bowman of St. Augustine on Proposal 62.

“To me, this looks like taxation without representation.”

Jackie Rock, a mosquito control commissioner from St. Johns County, bridged from closed primaries to consequences, noting that the Legislature did not pass an assault weapon ban, eliciting a gasp from the crowd.

The same held true for a nonexistent proposal to ban assault weapons. Anytime a speaker sounded that theme, the green cards flapped.

If there was a leitmotif to the six-hour meeting, it was a distinct lack of enthusiasm for proposals. Read more here.

Brown makes it official, challenges Gibson

The paperwork was filed Friday: Jacksonville City Councilman Reggie Brown threw down the gauntlet for a primary challenge against state Sen. Audrey Gibson.

Councilman Reggie Brown denies Mayor Lenny Curry put him up to running for Senate.

But Florida Politics readers knew already.

“I am running,” Brown said in mid-January.

And contrary to what some in Gibson’s orbit are saying, it’s Brown’s decision and his move to make.

Gibson — the Senate Democratic Leader-designate — would seem like an unlikely primary target.

She has been in elected office since the 1990s and gets donations from national corporations and political committees. Gibson carried $121,000 in her campaign account at the end of January.

Brown thinks he can bring more money to the district, however.

Gibson doesn’t want to talk about the challenge, which sets the stage for the most compelling primary race in Northeast Florida this year outside of the Brown/Lawson demolition derby for Congress.

Boys Club?

WJXT, typically a friendly outlet to Curry, postulated this week that his office may be a “boys club.”

Where the boys are: WJXT story goes in on the Lenny Curry machine.

The article focused on the aftermath of a conversation between Chief of Staff Brian Hughes and Council President Anna Brosche’s assistant, Jeneen Sanders, which led to Sanders saying she felt threatened.

The Office of General Counsel backed Hughes’ version of events, saying no laws were broken.

WJXT asserted that “some people” said they felt uncomfortable around Hughes after the initial charges were made.

The money quote: “One prominent Republican in Jacksonville who works outside of City Hall said that he’s ‘very headstrong’ and ‘a classic bully’ who can ‘get in a person’s face and invade their personal space.’”

Council President Anna Brosche, meanwhile, offered her own thoughts on the City Hall dynamic and a Florida Times-Union article that essentially mansplained Brosche off the dais.

Brosche asserted that ”if my name was Allen Brosche, I would not be receiving the kind of feedback some are offering me: Take the high road, understand he is a competitive person, learn to bite your tongue, and (repeatedly) don’t take things so personally.”

“The questions to the community, the media and leaders who want me to be quiet, to be nice,” Brosche added, “are:  Is competition among community leaders the best thing for Jacksonville? As a man, is Mayor Curry getting the same advice I am?”

Meanwhile, a mysterious poll is probing Brosche’s appeal versus Curry, leading to claims and counterclaims in the consultant set as to who is pushing this poll and why.

GOP gun control push?

Peter Rummell is among the leading names in Jacksonville’s Republican donor class, and he made news himself this weekend as part of a New York Times article detailing prominent GOP donors who no longer will back candidates who support assault weapons sales.

Peter Rummell wants a ‘debate’ on Second Amendment prerogatives in the GOP.

Rummell, described as “a Jacksonville-based donor who gave $125,000 to Jeb Bush’s ‘super PAC’ in 2016, said he was on board with Mr. Hoffman’s plan and would only contribute to candidates supportive of banning assault weapons.”

Rummell said, per the NYT, “the Parkland shooting was a turning point: ‘It has to start somewhere,’ Mr. Rummell said, of controlling guns.”

Rummell has donated majorly to candidates and causes in the Jacksonville area also, including but not limited to the last two successful mayoral campaigns and the pension reform referendum of 2016.

“Al Hoffman has made a bold and decisive statement and his ultimate point is we need to do something major and radical-nipping at the edges isn’t working. Starting is hard and he’s taken what he considers to be an important first step. And, I totally agree that we as a nation need to focus on laws that would create a safer world for all. I am not sure that starting with just an ‘ultimatum’ is the right first step,” Rummell told Florida Politics in a statement, drawing a subtle but important distinction between his position and the rhetorical absolutism of Hoffman’s as documented by the NYT.

“We need a plan, a strategy and tactics. Starting any process is hard — especially one that is as serious, complicated and emotional as this is. Now is the time for us to have a debate that is honest, thoughtful and complete, taking into account all the important issues about how we live practically under the Second Amendment, which I fully support. The discussion needs to end with real transformation and actionable items that bring about real reform, protections and change,” Rummell said.

Keep it 100?

The National Rifle Association endorsed Curry for Jacksonville Mayor in 2015, yet when we asked Curry about NRA support, he said he wasn’t in “100 percent alignment” with donors and supporters Wednesday.

“Not issue specific. Any supporter, any donor, any endorser, you’re not going to have 100 percent alignment on,” Curry said at a media availability.

“At least I don’t. They don’t expect that. They expect independent thinking,” Curry said of donors and endorsers.

The NRA endorsed Lenny Curry in 2015.

We asked Curry where he diverged from NRA positions; he offered no answer, potentially a reflection of the balancing act Republican politicians currently face with the gun lobby.

“I’m a constitutional conservative, believe in the rule of law, and the firearm issue is regulated at the federal and state level,” Curry said. “My commitment to public safety has been demonstrated in real investments and real actions here in Jacksonville.”

When asked about the assault weapon ban that the Florida House effectively voted down Tuesday, Curry said it was another example of a state regulation and offered no comment on the Republican legislators in this region who voted to not even give the bill a hearing.

“Recognizing that we are in very sad times right now, tragic times, I’m going to do what I can in Jacksonville to keep our city safe,” Curry said, citing his reforms of children’s programs via the Kids Hope Alliance as an example of such action.

Stormy weather

Reimbursements will come sooner or later for the city of Jacksonville from the federal government for Hurricanes Matthew and Irma.

Flooding was a major impact of Irma, and thus far Jacksonville’s general fund remains soaked.

Until then, however, the impact of the storms will be felt in the city’s general fund budget.

The Jacksonville City Council Auditor’s quarterly report for the final three months of 2017 puts the figures in sharp relief.

“The latest Hurricane Matthew projection estimates the financial impact will be approximately $45.1 million. As of Jan. 31, 2018, the City incurred expenditures of $28.0 million related to Hurricane Matthew,” the report contends.

“87.5 percent of the total allowable expenses are subject to reimbursement, leaving the City to fund the remainder. The fiscal year 2017/18 approved budget includes an appropriation of $7.0 million from the GF/GSD to cover the City’s estimated obligation,” the report adds.

Irma is worse: the fiscal impact will be approximately $86.4 million, with no less than a $10.8 million charge to the city even if all reimbursements come through.

With slow reimbursements, one wonders if the discussion of reserve levels will be a more forceful one this summer.

The city has already been dinged by analysts for high fixed costs. These, combined with a reluctance to hike taxes, are leading influencers and policymakers to take a hard look at JEA privatization, which could net the city $3 to $6 billion.

Meanwhile, the city has worries regarding increasing interest rates and the equity market volatility of recent weeks.

Conditions to JEA sale for Curry

While on the JEA subject, Curry tells the Florida Times-Union that he’s not, contrary to opinion in some quarters, married to a JEA sale.

Lenny Curry continues to maintain public agnosticism toward utility sale.

Curry said: “There’s a whole lot of questions that would have to be answered.”

“From my perspective, I would not be supportive of anything that took a lump sum of cash in any scenario — JEA or anything else — and spent it,” Curry said. “Future generations and future taxpayers always have to be protected … people working at JEA need to be protected as well, and their families honored.”

The sale could net the city $3 billion to $6 billion, though there is a lot of salesmanship ahead between Curry and members of Council.

On Tuesday, Council President Anna Brosche took a proactive measure, setting up a special committee that will run through June looking at the issue.

She believes that if the proposal is sound it will survive scrutiny. And she, along with other skeptics, will be on the panel.

More skepticism abounds: the city’s ethics commission wants to firm up rules to avert the temptations and potential abuses of the sale process, should it go forward.

JEA straw poll bill coming, and so are ‘bounties’?

Jacksonville City Councilman Garrett Dennis is introducing a bill that would force a straw poll on JEA privatization, he said this week at a meeting of the Duval Democrats.

Garrett Dennis is a marked man, he says, by the Mayor’s office.

Privatization, Dennis said, would be “bad for our city … a cover for a shortfall for a bad pension plan that we were all duped into passing.”

Also of note: Dennis claims there is a “bounty” on five Council members from the mayor’s office.

“The mayor, who we all know is a bully, has bounties on five Council members’ heads.”

Those Councilors: President Anna Brosche and Danny Becton, two Republicans, along with Democrats Dennis, Reggie Gaffney and Katrina Brown.

Dennis, Becton, and Brosche are all on the JEA privatization committee.

‘Senseless violence’ again on Jacksonville streets

Seven-year-old Tashawn Gallon was gunned down in Durkeeville Sunday night. Per the Florida Times-Union, he died hours after being shot in a drive-by.

Curry took to Twitter hours later.

“Last night a 7 yr old was killed in a drive-by shooting in our city. We must come together as a community and stop this senseless violence to give our kids a sense of hope and peace.”

Durkeeville, a rough neighborhood for decades now, is on the periphery of Downtown Jacksonville.

“This happened Less than 2 miles from City Hall, Within 2 miles of our government and churches and schools and FSCJ and firehouses and sheriff substations, all institutions designed to help keep a community safe and allow kids the security to grow and learn how to make choices and follow dreams,” Curry continued.

“In the shadow of all that opportunity and assistance, a 7 yr old had life stolen by someone so hopeless and directionless that they didn’t hesitate to recklessly turn our streets into a war zone. We have to break through to these young people. We have to find a way to make them recognize there is so much more for them than they can imagine, if they choose to believe in hope and peace.”

Small children being shot: a running theme in Jacksonville homicides, and something that Curry has all too routinely had to address during his two-and-a-half years in office.

Fishweir Creek to be swimmable, fishable again

A Jacksonville creek restoration project awaited by Avondale area residents for over a decade is finally on the verge of a City Council green light.

Clearing committees Tuesday and Wednesday: a bill (2018-8) to move forward on the restoration of Big Fishweir Creek.

Making Big Fishweir Creek great again.

Urbanization and development over the course of decades made the tributary inhospitable to swimming and fishing, per the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

The USACE outlines some benefits to the project. Included among them, making the creek “swimmable and fishable,” creating a navigable habitat for the still endangered manatee, improving water quality generally, and creation of a marsh island.

The project is estimated to cost $6,549,000; the city of Jacksonville has appropriated $2,566,375, with the USACE picking up the other 65 percent of the tab. If the federal contribution goes up, the local share will do likewise. The federal cap is $10 million.

Construction is expected in 2019.

Departures

A Jacksonville City Council candidate left the Public Service Grants Council this month, while the head of sports and entertainment also moved on.

The TaxSlayer Bowl will be someone else’s problem this year, with Dave Herrell gone.

Tameka Gaines Holly, running in District 8 to replace fellow Democrat Katrina Brown, resigned the PSG by email.

The candidate leads the money race: she posted $10,800 in January — her first month as an active candidate. Holly is the cash on hand leader, with candidates Diallo-Sekou Seabrooks and Albert Wilcox each under $2,000 on hand.

Also out the door: Dave Herrell, after almost four years handling Jacksonville sports and entertainment.

Herrell was responsible in a previous role for elevating the status of the Fiesta Bowl; however, the TaxSlayer Bowl was not particularly raised in his term.

Budget hearings between Herrell’s department and the Mayor’s senior staff, at times, were contentious, with Chief Administrative Officer Sam Mousa and others questioning the necessity for the department as it was constituted.

Herrell’s Resignation Letter indicates that, while the resignation is effective April 10, the actual departure date was Feb. 9.

Endorsement watch

Katie Dearing is unopposed in her bid for 4th Circuit judge. And every sheriff in the circuit backs her.

In addition to being supported by sheriffs, Katie Dearing’s nuclear family backs her as well.

“Katie is highly respected by her peers and the law enforcement community. She brings a wealth of experience and courtroom knowledge as well as practical wisdom. I proudly endorse her for Circuit Judge,” said Sheriff Darryl Daniels of Clay County.

Sheriff Mike Williams called Dearing “qualified, capable, and caring and she will be an asset to the judiciary.” And Sheriff Bill Leeper of Nassau “heartily endorse[s]” the candidate.

UNF names new leader

Jacksonville’s University of North Florida has a new president.

The UNF Board of Trustees selected University of Cincinnati business-school dean David Szymanski to become the school’s sixth president.

David Szymanski is the new president of UNF.

Szymanski currently serves as dean of the Carl H. Lindner College of Business and a professor of marketing at the University of Cincinnati. The board authorized Chairman Kevin Hyde to negotiate a contract with Szymanski, whose appointment also is subject to confirmation by the state university system’s Board of Governors.

Anonymous gift brings special ed school closer to new campus

An anonymous $1.5 million gift has helped the North Florida School of Special Education get significantly closer toward a new campus.

The donation brought the school to $5 million of its $6 million goal in a three-year “Angel of the Woods” fundraising campaign. The new campus will be called The Christy and Lee Smith Lower School Campus and Therapeutic Center.

A rendering of The Christy and Lee Smith Lower School Campus and Therapeutic Center.

“This is a beautiful tribute,” school head Sally Hazelip told circlecharityregister.com. “The gift honors our past and helps plant the seeds for our future; we are so thankful for this donor’s generosity.”

The campaign is for the facility to build a 32,000-square-foot facility and a Therapeutic Equestrian Center on 5 acres of land bestowed to the school in 2014 by the Ida Mae Stevens Foundation and Doug Milne, trustee. One of the first donations to the campaign was a $1 million gift from Delores Barr Weaver to name the Therapeutic Equestrian Center.

The Smiths were among the first four families who founded the school in 1992. The school’s current Anderson Smith Campus is named after their son.

Groundbreaking is set for fall 2018 with a targeted completion sometime in 2019. The new buildings will join the current 9,000-square-foot classroom structure on the 3-acre campus at 223 Mill Creek Road. When finished, the school will cover 41,000 square feet over 8 acres.

Jax driverless vehicle prototype passes first on-road test

Soon, driverless vehicles will begin having a profound change on Jacksonville streets.

“This is not a question of if. It’s a question of when,” said Jacksonville Transportation Authority CEO Nat Ford to Action News Jax.

Rosalie Simcoe was one of the riders on a prototype autonomous vehicle operated by Transdev tested on the Easy Mile this week.

“It was incredible. It was very smooth,” Simcoe told reporter Jenna Bourne. “I felt very safe.”

It was the same type of vehicle that soon will be seen Jacksonville streets and the Skyway. Ford expects the infrastructure conversion to support autonomous vehicles on the Skyway to take five about years.

“This vehicle here is the one that we currently have on our test track over by EverBank Stadium,” Ford explained. “And we’ll be running that vehicle for the next few months and then we’ll swap out, every so many other manufacturers’ vehicles.

“So, we’re in a test and learn phase.”

White the model tested can travel up to 28 miles an hour, for the demonstration – at the University of North Florida – it only traveled about 10 miles an hour.

As for safety, the demonstration had a person step in front of the vehicle, which came to a full stop until he moved away.

Bill Nelson slams Rick Scott for skipping town hall

Gov. Rick Scott’s absence from the CNN town hall on gun reform and his potential refusal to propose an assault weapons ban will not be forgotten by Democratic U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson — especially as the two likely will face each other for Nelson’s seat in the upcoming midterm elections.

On Thursday, Nelson spoke to reporters and criticized Scott for his association with the NRA and for not attending Wednesday night’s town hall. Nelson said he was at the state Capitol “articulating his position” to legislators on what should be done in the wake of the massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland.

When asked if he’d lent advice to Scott, who plans to release a legislative proposal on Friday that is widely expected to include mental health and school safety measures, Nelson said, “I was hoping Gov. Scott was going to be at the town hall meeting like Sen. [Marco] Rubio, so that we could start having a discussion.”

Scott’s official response for skipping the CNN town hall was that he’d “be in Tallahassee meeting with state leaders to work on ways to keep Florida students safe, including school safety improvements and keeping guns away from individuals struggling with mental illness.”

Nelson questioned Scott’s response, noting that the Governor attended a funeral in Broward County earlier on Wednesday.

“That doesn’t wash,” Nelson said.

Late in the evening on Wednesday, Scott met with several groups of Stoneman Douglas students in Tallahassee.

Nelson said Scott’s affiliation with the NRA and his related accolades are the reason why he predicts much of the legislative initiatives proposed on Friday will not include gun restrictions.

“The governor has an A-plus [NRA] rating,” Nelson said. “He’s a darling of the NRA, which means the gun manufacturers.”

Nelson preemptively attacked the concept of arming teachers with guns, a proposed policy solution that’s being floated at the state and national level.

He called it “a terrible idea” and questioned whether armed teachers would be able to halt a shooter equipped with an assault rifle.

Nelson lauded efforts to increase mental health and to provide more security for schools, but said they stop short of what he believes is necessary to prevent future mass shootings.

Nelson said the “root problems” can be fixed by ensuring criminal background checks take place every time a gun changes ownership and by banning assault weapons.

“I mean if you’re going to do something about school shootings — and just think about it, America is the only country on the face of the earth that there are constantly school massacres — if we’re going to do something about this we’ve got to get at the root problem and that is to take the assault rifles off the street,” Nelson said.

Scott’s record on guns is the target of a recent ad airing in four markets across the state. Given Nelson’s comments on Thursday, these attacks on pro-gun stances will persist should Scott opt to run against him.

Chris King: Legislature ‘cowardly’ for running from assault rifle ban

On the debate over assault rifle bans, Democratic gubernatorial candidate Chris King believes the Florida Legislature is a bunch of cowards.

With the eyes of the nation on them, the GOP-led state House blocked a move by Democrats Tuesday to debate a ban on assault weapons and large-capacity ammunition magazines in Florida, six days after a massacre that took 17 lives at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland.

Republicans explained it would have been unprecedented to take a bill stuck in a subcommittee and move it to the chamber floor for debate.

The optics have been terrible though, with national media organizations focusing on showing Parkland students who were in the gallery that afternoon crying after the vote.

Headlines from outlets like The Washington Post screamed, “Florida House refuses to debate guns, declares porn dangerous,” referring to a resolution by Dover Republican Rep. Ross Spano that declares pornography a health risk that states a need for education, research and policy changes to protect Floridians, especially teenagers, from pornography.

King said it was downright “cowardly” for the House to not even engage in a debate on the issue.

“That’s a terrible explanation,” he said about the reasoning that such bills aren’t heard out of committee while appearing on Tampa’s WMNF 88.5 FM Thursday.

“There are good people that can talk about these issues, recognize that they’re complicated, and that we need to have a debate and we need to discuss it and talk about the substance of these ideas,” he said, adding that he supported the same proposal by Orlando Democratic Rep. Carlos Guillermo Smith (HB 219) that was similarly never brought up for debate last year after the Pulse nightclub massacre.

“I think it’s a real absence of leadership and it’s cowardly to not even talk about solutions, to not even be willing to stand out there and say, ‘I oppose,’ as the Republicans would likely do, ‘I oppose an assault weapons ban, and here’s why.’ They don’t want to make that argument. They don’t want to stand up to folks like those students from Parkland who can’t understand why they wouldn’t do that,” King said.

On Wednesday night, U.S. Sens. Marco Rubio and Bill Nelson and Boca Raton U.S. Rep. Ted Deutch appeared before a live town-hall audience broadcast nationally by CNN in Sunrise. Missing in action was Gov. Rick Scott, an absence that King calls “tragic.”

“We need a governor to not only sooth the wounds but propose big ideas that we can get behind,” King said. “I believe that’s a big problem. We haven’t had leadership from this governor for a long time.”

A Gravis Marketing poll released earlier this week shows King with only two percent support in his contest for the Democratic nomination for governor, but the Winter Park businessman says he remains unconcerned with more than six months to go before the August primary.

“My opportunity over the next seven months is as people are messaged and as people understand where we are on these issues, they’ll be making choices,” King said, adding that the poll showed that more than two-thirds of Democratic voters haven’t decided on a candidate yet.

Noting that while his better-known opponents, former U.S. Rep. Gwen Graham, Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum and former Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine are still relatively unknown by Democratic voters at large, King’s job is to “catch fire” and speak to voter concerns.

CNN Parkland town hall crowd expresses powerful gun-control message

If the crowd at Wednesday night’s gun discussion at the BB&T Center in Sunrise was indicative of more than just a normally Democratic community now suffering from one of the most horrific school massacres in history, then Republicans such as U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio and staunch 2nd Amendment advocates can find little place there.

In the CNN post-Parkland massacre town hall meeting show “Stand Up,” televised live Wednesday night, students’, teachers’, family members’ and others’  anger and conviction over the mass murder at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School was clearly focused on gun control, on banning assault weapons, universal background checks and other gun laws.

That left Rubio, who joined Democratic U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson and U.S. Rep. Ted Deutch, often in the spotlight of anger and pleading survivors, family and friends, as he defended 2nd Amendment positions opposing many of the gun restrictions the crowd was professing.

The trio of federal lawmakers found their roles well defined from the start, and found that the questioners, including teenagers, harbored no fear or intimidation whatsoever in pressing powerful members of Congress.

Deutch, the hometown congressman who has been a strong, longtime advocate of gun control, gave fiery calls for banning what he called “weapons of war,” and denouncing opposition to gun reforms. And for those he drew standing ovations.

Nelson, who’s been through all of this before, from previous horrible tragedies, sought to balm and inspire the crowd, declaring, “Your hope gives me hope. You’r determination gives me more determination…. You have been so strong. Keep it up.”

And on the other side was Rubio, who drew flat-out confrontations, and stood up to them with compassion and respect, and expressing sincere empathy and understanding, yet with convictions to positions the questioners and the crowd did not like. He took it.

“I want to like you. Here’s the problem: Your comments this week, and those of our president have been pathetically weak,” Rubio was told by Fred Guttenberg, whose 14-year-old daughter Jaime Guttenberg was killed last week.

“Tell me guns weren’t a factor in the hunting of our kids,” Guttenberg demanded.

At another point, student Michelle Lapidot asked, rhetorically, because she said she wanted to ask someone from the National Rifle Association, but there wasn’t anyone there yet, “Was the blood of my classmates and teachers worth your blood money?”

Rubio made some news pledging some concessions on gun control stands He renewed and strengthened vows to support a ban on bump stocks, an increase the minimum age for the purchase of a rifle to 21, an expansion background checks on gun purchases. Finally, he promised a new breakthrough, to consider restrictions on ammunition magazine sizes, an issue that had been front and center in the gun debate 20 months ago, in the weeks after the Pulse massacre in Orlando, and which Rubio had then strongly opposed.

The last concession was one he said has come to him from what he had learned from law enforcement briefings about what happened inside the high school last week. He said it was evidence in politics that people can change their minds.

“I traditionally have not supported looking at magazine clip size. … I’m reconsidering, and I’ll tell you why,” Rubio said. “While it may not prevent an attack, it may save lives in an attack. I believe there will be evidence that in a key moment in the incident, three or four people, three or four people, might be alive today because of something this deranged killer had to do.”

But Rubio’s other arguments, seeking to explain, for example, how complicated it could be to ban the kinds of guns that killed in Stoneman Douglas High School and in Pulse, fell flat, sounding as if he was nickel-and-diming the issues on technicalities. And he was doing so in front of young people who had stared down a blazing AR-15 just days ago, and in front of grieving parents and siblings.

At one point he asked Deutch if he would be so bold as to support a ban on all assault rifles, as if such was an absurdly-broad ban.

Deutch said yes. The crowed thundered.

Rubio looked surprised. He said, “Fair enough, fair enough.”

Still, Rubio fared better than Florida Gov. Rick Scott and President Donald Trump. CNN invited both, and they both declined. And they both suffered  numerous unanswered hits during the town hall, for not participating.

Nelson, who likely will be facing Scott later this year in the U.S. Senate race, took several opportunities to criticize the pro-2nd Amendment governor.

“My colleague and I, Marco Rubio, have a good relationship. I told him before I came out tonight he had guts coming here, when in fact there is no representative of the state of Florida here. Our governor did not come here, Gov. Scott, but Marco did,” Nelson offered.

Rubio’s empathy and connection with the crowd was not shared by his successor on the 2nd Amendment side of the issue.

In the second half of the show, CNN brought out Broward County Sheriff Scott Israel and NRA national spokeswoman Dana Loesch.

Loesch started out condescending and lecturing, trying to draw distinctions between selling weapons to people she called “nuts,” and to anyone else. Almost continuously, Loesch tried to blame the school massacre, and redirect questions and arguments, to being being about the madness of charged shooter Nikolas Cruz, and how the justice system, the schools, and society had missed all warning signs that should have signaled the blood to come, and led someone to intervene.

But the students and others, and the crowd reactions sounded as if they heard her argument as offensively irrelevant, as completely tone deaf to what they wanted to discuss: the role of the guns in Cruz’s hands. She was accused of avoiding questions, and Loesch occasionally retreated into the position of the cornered righteous.

That didn’t get by Israel, who told her she had not earned the right to tell the audience, as she had, that she fought for them. He declared there was no reason for the NRA’s opposition to universal background checks and assault weapon restrictions, declaring, “We’re calling BS on that!”

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